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Chicago's Café Selmarie expects to close by month's end; new venture coming to space

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CHICAGO (CBS) -- The venerable Café Selmarie restaurant and bakery in Lincoln Square expects to close its doors by the end of the month, with a new owner and restaurant taking over afterward.

Café Selmarie, 4721 N. Lincoln Ave., first announced its plans to close in September. The restaurant website said as of Wednesday night that an official closing date is to be announced soon – but the restaurant expects to shut down at the end of April.

Owner Birgit Kobayashi is set to retire.

Café Selmarie celebrated 40 years in business last September. The café opened in September 1983 – when Ronald Reagan was in his first term as president, and Harold Washington had been mayor of Chicago for only five months.

Kobayashi founded Café Selmarie with the late Jeanne Uzdawinis, whom she had met as a neighbor on Giddings Street. They started Café Selmarie just down the street from where they lived with their families at the time, the restaurant said in a September news release.

The name is a portmanteau of the two women's middle names – Birgit Selma and Jeanne Marie.

Café Selmarie started out as a small storefront with just a few tables serving pastries and coffee, but broke down walls in 1999 – ultimately to double its size, the restaurant release said. The café has been an iconic part of Giddings Plaza in Lincoln Square for many years – and even had the first espresso machine in the neighborhood, the release said.

Café Selmarie has also long been revered for its patio for al fresco dining and displays of works from local artists.

Uzdawinis died in 2017. Kobayashi said in September that it was time for the next chapter.

The Café Selmarie name and recipes will not be sold, the restaurant announced in September. But first reported Andrew Pillman – the owner of the Lincoln Square Tap Room next door – plans to open a new venture, Willow Café & and Bistro, in the Selmarie space.

"While we know that our closing is sad news, we hope you'll give Willow Cafe & Bistro a chance to make their own mark on Lincoln Square," Café Selmarie said on social media. "We're excited to see what they have in store!"

For now, Café Selmarie is still offering dinner reservations on Tock – and the café made a point of announcing on Instagram that Kobayashi is whipping up her famous morning buns this coming Friday and Saturday.

Café Selmarie will join a list of well-known Chicago eateries that have closed recently after decades in business.

  • Fondue Stube, a stalwart in the Arcadia Terrace/West Rogers Park neighborhood dating back to 1972, closed its doors at 2717 W. Peterson Ave. at the end of July. With its pots of hot oil, cheese, and chocolate at each table, Fondue Stube was revered for many years as a date night spot. A Redfin listing indicates the building that housed Fondue Stube is now up for sale.
  • In August, Reza's Restaurant and Catering closed its original Andersonville location, at 5255 N. Clark St., after serving Persian cuisine for 40 years. Reza's was known in particular for its Sunday buffet. The other two Reza's locations – at 1557 Sherman Ave. in Evanston and 40 N. Tower Rd. in Oak Brook – remain open.
  • The Signature Room at the 95th closed in late September after 30 years at the top of of the former John Hancock Center. While the restaurant and lounge had opened under that name and incarnation in 1993, there had been a restaurant in that space as long as the John Hancock Center had been open. Last week, a judge ordered $1.5 million in back pay for former Signature Room workers – ruling the owners of the restaurant and lounge failed to give workers proper notice when the business abruptly closed.
  • Mee Mah Restaurant, at 4032 W. Peterson Ave. in the Sauganash neighborhood, closed in December after 41 years of serving Chinese American cuisine. Owners Bill and Sandy Wong decided to retire. The restaurant was famous in particular for its egg rolls.
  • The only Chicago city outpost of the national chain Uncle Julio's from Scratch, at 855 W. North Ave., closed suddenly last week – reportedly blaming high rents. Workers complained about the abrupt closure – saying the restaurant failed to communicate with staff. Uncle Julio's said it had offered staffers positions at other Chicago area locations, though an employee said the staffers from the North Avenue restaurant were not guaranteed a full-time position.
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